Fic 2: Acceptance with Exception
Authors: X_tremeroswellian and Did_It_Once
Disclaimer: We own nothing.
Spoilers: Vague ones for “Reconstruction” but it’s pretty AU.
Dedication: To loves_bitch1301. Happy early birthday, Sweetie! :D
Word Count: 4441
Acceptance with Exception
The Green ranch was on the far side of town, and short of asking for a ride from random military personnel--which she wasn't about to do--Heather had no real choice but to walk the whole way. She didn't know where her beloved truck, Charlotte, had ended up. Just one more thing she'd have to figure out in the near future.
By the time she reached the ranch, the sun was high in the sky and beads of perspiration had broken out on her forehead. Drawing in a breath of the warm Kansas air, Heather reached up and twisted her hair into a ponytail. She spotted Gail Green brushing one of the horses on the ranch, oblivious to her presence.
"You're such a good girl," Gail murmured to the horse, running the brush slowly over its body, tears rolling down her face.
Heather stopped several feet away, not wanting to startle Mrs. Green or intrude on a private moment of grief. She swallowed hard, her heart aching at the sight of the older woman's tears. She dropped her gaze to stare at the ground, breath catching in her throat. Gail Green had been one of the first people in Jericho to welcome her to town.
She'd even invited her over for dinner a few times. She had always gotten the impression that the woman was a mother hen and a force to be reckoned with at the same time--she wondered what it must have been like to grow up part of such a family.
Taking a deep breath, Gail forced the tears to stop, wiping at the wetness they had caused. Turning slowly, she jumped as she caught sight of someone standing so near her. It took a moment for her to realize who it was. "Oh, Heather. You startled me."
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, her expression uncertain as she watched the confusion flicker over Gail's face. "I didn't meant to scare you or interrupt."
She waved her hand. "Don't be sorry, you're fine."
She waited for the inevitable moment when Gail would realize, like everyone else, that Heather was supposed to be dead and yet there she was, walking around.
"Suppose you're another ghost to come console me," she whispered.
Heather's face paled. "Another...no, Mrs. Green, I'm not...I'm really here."
"That's what they've all said," more tears began to run down her face.
She swallowed hard, her stomach tightening. "Jake said he thought it would be okay for me to come here and see you. I...I shouldn't have come. I'm so sorry," she whispered, slowly backing away.
"Jake sent you?"
Heather nodded quickly. "Well, sort of. Um, I asked if he thought it would be okay and he seemed to think it was a good idea and I would have come last night but I just got back into town and I was a little overwhelmed by everything so I walked here as soon as I woke up--"
Gail stopped her from talking, walking over to her and grabbing her in a tight hug. "Thank God you're alive."
At first she was caught off guard by the sudden show of affection, her arms winding around the older woman in return.
"How are you?" She asked, pulling back, a weak smile on her face.
Heather met the smile with a small, forced one of her own, nodding. "I'm good. I'm fine."
"That's good, that's good."
"How are you?" she asked softly.
"Oh, I'm okay...just out here brushing the horses..." She trailed off, looking back at the barn.
"Can I help?"
"Sure. Lets go get you a brush."
Heather relaxed a little at Gail's quick agreement to let her help, and she followed her into the barn. She accepted a brush from her and chewed her lower lip, watching as Gail showed her how to brush the horse's mane. She'd always been a fast learner, and horse-brushing was no exception. She began to brush one of the other horses, gently patting its nose.
"How long have you been back?"
"Yesterday afternoon," she said quietly. "Major Beck let me hitch a ride back on his convoy."
She nodded. "I see."
They worked in comfortable silence for nearly an hour, going from one horse to another, grooming them and leading them back into their respective stalls in the barn. Heather glanced at her sideways.
"Thanks for the help, Heather," Gail said, voice full of gratitude.
"You're welcome," she said softly, offering her a small smile.
"I'm glad you're home and safe."
Her smile faded a little and she nodded. "I wish that..."
Heather drew in a breath and let it out slowly, gazing out over the fields. "That they would've gotten here sooner."
"Yes...well," she looked down. "What's happened, happened."
"I don't...mean to push, and I know you need time, but...I think that Jake could really use his mother right now." Her voice was hesitant. "And I'm sure that Eric could too."
"I'm not sure...I know how to comfort them," she said quietly.
Heather gazed at her, her eyes filled with sadness. "Just being around you would probably be enough comfort."
Gail shook her head. "I just don't know what I'm doing anymore."
She smiled sadly. "Yeah. I get that."
"Johnston was...my other half," tears welled in her eyes. "He'd know what to say."
Wordlessly she moved over and hugged the woman. "I wish I knew what to say that would take away the hurt, but...there aren't any," she whispered.
She hugged her back. "You being here is enough for now...thank you."
Guilt swept over Heather in a powerful wave, but she simply nodded. The Green family certainly had nothing to thank her for.
* * *
That afternoon saw Jake back in the police station, slightly confused from being summoned by Major Beck. Reaching the man's temporary office, Jake knocked on the doorframe and stepped in. "You wanted to see me?"
"Have a seat, Jake." Beck nodded toward the chair by his desk.
He frowned, walking over to the chair and sitting. "What's this about?"
"I have a proposition for you." He gazed at him steadily. "The people in this town respect you, believe in you. They followed you into the battle with New Bern without hesitation from what I've been hearing."
"Yeah, and a lot lost their lives."
"Unfortunately that happens in war," he said gravely. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out something shiny and metallic and set it down on the desk beside him so Jake could see it.
Jake looked down at it. After a moment, he realized what it was. "You want me to be Jericho's sheriff."
"Can't think of a better man for the job," Beck informed him, leaning back in his chair.
Jake ran a hand over his scruffy chin. "I'll have to think about it."
He stood. "If that's all..."
"You're free to go," Major Beck confirmed.
"Just out of curiosity...how do you know Heather Lisinski?"
"She's a friend," he responded, walking out of his office.
"Hmm." Beck watched him go, leaning back in his chair again.
* * *
When Jake got home, he was surprised to see his mom in the living room, sitting on the couch. "Mom."
"Hello, Jake," she said quietly, slowly rising to her feet.
He stepped hesitantly over to her. "You okay?"
Gail nodded slightly and moved over to him, winding her arms around him in a tight hug.
He leaned into her. "I'm glad you’re home."
She shut her eyes, smiling faintly. "How are you?"
"I'm okay," he said tightly.
Pulling away to look at him with a raised eyebrow, she shook her head. "About as much as I am."
Shrugging, he put his hands in his pockets. "Just worried about you."
"Well, I'm home now," she said quietly, her voice firm.
She smiled a bit. "I'm going to make dinner tonight. I'm going to invite Eric and Mary. I assume Emily's been staying here?"
He shook his head. "It's just been me."
Gail looked surprised. "I thought the two of you were..."
"We are...she just...thinks it'd be better if she stayed at home."
"I see." She gazed at him for a moment. "Well, she's more than welcome to join us."
"I'll go get her later," he said quietly.
Nodding, Gail slowly moved into the kitchen. "I also invited Heather."
"Good. She needs company."
"She came to the ranch this morning and spent several hours helping me with the horses and chores," she told him quietly.
"Figured she'd stop by soon."
"I'm glad she did." She smiled faintly as she began pulling pots and pans from the kitchen cabinets. "At least something good came out of this mess."
"Why don't you go take a nap, Jake?" she suggested, glancing at him.
He blinked. "A nap."
"Honey, you look exhausted. When's the last time you slept?"
He shrugged. "A while ago."
"So go sleep for awhile," she urged. "If anything comes up, I'll wake you."
He shook his head. "Let me help you out with dinner."
"I've got dinner," she told him firmly.
He sighed. "I'll be on the couch."
She watched him go, sighing softly as well. The couch was better than nothing, she supposed.
* * *
"I'll do it." Heather stood in the doorway of Major Beck's office later that evening, her voice strong and steady. She wished she felt as strong and steady as she sounded. On the inside, her stomach was doing nervous flip-flops and she was extra glad she hadn't eaten anything that day. She had a feeling it would've ended up on the floor.
Major Beck smiled. "I'm glad you've accepted our request."
"Your request," she corrected him without hesitation.
She nodded slightly, her eyes dark. "I guess I'll be seeing you later then."
He nodded. "See you."
She headed out of the office, catching sight of the deputy from New Bern being escorted out of the jail cell he'd been held in. She froze momentarily, staring at him as he smirked at her until he was led out of the building by two of the soldiers who'd taken up residence in Jericho. Her heart beat quickly in her chest as she also exited the building, dazed.
Heather turned quickly at the sound of Emily's voice, her eyes widening a little. She moved to her side, pushing her around the corner of the building and out of sight from the retreating troops.
Emily gave her an odd look. "Heather...what are you--"
"Keep your voice down," she said tensely.
"Okay..." She murmured.
Heather listened to the sound of the footsteps until they disappeared a few moments later. Then she shut her eyes for a second, opening them again to gaze at Emily. "Sorry."
"You're fine..." She frowned. "What was that about?"
She shook her head a little, forcing a smile. "Long story. What's up?"
"Just wondering if you wanted to come to Jake's with me for dinner. Gail invited you."
"Yeah, I know she did," she murmured. "But I think I'm gonna pass."
"Why? It'd mean a lot to Gail."
Guilt swept over her. "I'm just...I'm not feeling very well actually. I'm tired."
"Oh..." Emily's shoulders dropped. "It won't be for too long..."
"Maybe another time," Heather whispered.
"Heather..." She bit her lip. "Jake needs you there."
She looked away.
"He's been so distant..."
Drawing in a slow breath, she looked at Emily but didn't meet her eyes. "He's been through a lot," she murmured.
"I know," she looked down. "Just...please come?"
Heather shut her eyes, knowing she would regret this decision later. "Okay."
She nodded a little. "I'm just gonna...head back and change." She looked down at the dirty clothes she was still wearing from working on the ranch half the day with Gail.
"Okay," Emily smiled. "I'll see you at Jake's."
Heather watched her turn and head away, the knot in her stomach getting a little bigger. Then she wrapped her arms around herself and slowly walked toward her apartment, shivering involuntarily as she looked up at the quickly-descending sun.
* * *
Heather arrived just as the sun was completely disappearing from the sky. She'd walked quickly, warm sweatshirt wrapped around her as she looked around warily, heart beating heavily in her chest. Swallowing hard she reached up to knock on the Green's front door just as it was pulled open.
Gail smiled warmly. "Hello Heather."
"Hi." She rubbed the back of her neck. "Am I late?"
She shook her head. "No. Jake's still asleep, actually..."
"Oh. Maybe we should do the dinner thing some other night--" she began.
"No," instead of inviting Heather in, Gail stepped out of the house and shut the door softly. "I need your help."
Heather's eyebrows furrowed slightly. "My help?"
"I'm not sure I understand, Mrs. Green," she said slowly.
She took a breath and let it out slowly. "I know Jake. And I know when he has way too much on his plate for his own good. He isn't dealing with his father being gone..." She trailed off, sniffing. "None of us are. But with everything else he has going on...I can't do it alone."
Heather dropped her gaze to the porch floor, biting her lower lip. "I'll do whatever I can, but to tell you the truth...I don't think there's much I can do."
She put a hand on her shoulder. "Sweetheart, you can do more than you think."
She looked at Gail uncertainly but nodded a little anyway.
"Now come on, let’s get some dinner on the table."
Heather drew in a breath and followed her inside quietly, a little surprised to see Eric and Mary already there. She glanced toward the sofa where Emily was waking Jake up, then tucked some hair behind her ear and moved to help Gail set the food out.
It was another ten minutes before a disheveled Jake, complete with unkempt hair, all but stumbled into the dining room and took a seat beside Heather. "Hey," he said, voice still heavy with sleep.
"Hi," she said very softly, glancing at him momentarily before looking across the table to Eric, who had barely taken his eyes off her since she'd arrived. She shifted uncomfortably, dropping her gaze to her plate.
"I don't mean to stare, it's just...we all thought..." Eric's voice trailed off.
Jake turned his gaze toward his brother. "Eric, just be happy she's here."
"I am," he said quickly, nodding. "I'm really glad you're okay."
Heather smiled faintly. "Thanks."
Looking around, Jake rubbed his hands. "What's for dinner?"
"Comfort food," Gail replied, walking in the room with the last dish filled with Macaroni and Cheese.
"My favorite kind," Heather joked weakly.
"Alright...let’s dig in," Gail said, smiling at the people gathered around her table.
Heather took a bite of the macaroni and cheese, shutting her eyes for a moment to enjoy it.
Mary chuckled softly as she watched her. "I'm starting to think you didn't eat since you left for New Bern."
Jake gazed at her. "They fed you...right?"
"Of course." She didn't look at him, but forced a small smile, embarrassed.
"Good," he whispered.
Eric glanced at her, then at Jake before looking down at his plate.
Under the table, Mary grasped his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
He squeezed her hand back gently and continued to eat in silence.
Heather took a few more bites of her food, finishing before anyone else.
Jake merely watched everyone else eat, only stirring the food on his plate around in circles every once in a while.
Emily leaned over and whispered in his ear. "Try to eat something, please."
"I did," he murmured absently.
She sighed very softly and looked down at her own plate.
After a few minutes, Jake stood. "I'm done...anyone want me to take their plates?"
"I'll help," Heather said quickly, rising to her feet, as well.
Gathering some of the dishes, he made his way into the kitchen, putting them in the sink and turning the water on.
She did the same, following him into the kitchen and setting the plates on the counter.
"Was it good?" He asked, keeping his gaze on the dishes.
"Yeah," she said softly, glancing at him briefly. "You didn't really touch yours."
He shrugged. "Just wasn't that hungry."
Heather bit her lip. "Jake...I know this is hard, but you've gotta take care of yourself."
She looked away. "Sure."
He sighed. "I just...have a lot of my mind."
"I know you do."
"Major Beck asked me to be sheriff of Jericho."
Heather jerked her head up to look at him with wide eyes. "What did you say?"
He looked at her. "He wants me to be the sheriff."
"Yeah, I heard you the first time." *
He shrugged, going back to the dishes.
"You're not really surprised, are you?"
"Not really, I guess."
"Have you told your mother?"
Heather gazed at him curiously.
"I just...don't know if I'll accept," he admitted.
"Not that it really matters, but...I think you'd be really good at it."
"Thanks. And it does."
She managed a tiny smile. "I accepted his offer to the liaison between Jericho and New Bern," she said almost inaudibly, not sure how he'd take that news.
He stopped. "Are you sure that's what you want to do?"
"No," she admitted.
"Then don't," he said, putting a hand lightly on her wrist.
Heather swallowed hard, looking down at his hand. "But it feels like it's something I should do, Jake."
His jaw tightened, but he nodded. "I know how you feel there."
She glanced up at him, trying to read his expression. "Are you mad?"
He shook his head. "Not with you."
"I'd understand if you were." She pushed herself away from the counter, chewing on her lower lip. "I know it's gonna be weird that I'm advocating for both towns, but..."
"Heather, trust me," his voice was soft. "I'm not mad at you. Or your decision."
Heather nodded very slightly. "I'm gonna...get the rest of the dishes and head out."
"You don't...have to."
"Have to what?" Her eyebrows furrowed.
"Your mom just got home. You guys should spend some time together as a family," she said softly.
"You just got home too," he reminded her.
Heather offered him a faint, lopsided grin. "Yeah, but...I'm not family." She headed toward the dining room.
Jake reached out and caught her arm before she could leave. "Yes you are."
She met his gaze, faint surprise in her eyes.
"Just..." He licked his lips. "Stay. You can stay up in my room. I promise the sheets are clean."
"But...where are you sleeping?"
Heather shook her head automatically. "Jake, there's a perfectly good bed at my apartment and you need a good night's sleep."
"Doubt I'll be sleeping." He turned back toward the sink.
She looked at the floor. Somehow she doubted she would be, either. She drew in a slow breath, flinching visibly when a loud knock sounded at the front door.
Jake stood, expression puzzled as he made his way over to the door. Grasping the knob, he pulled the door open.
Jimmy Taylor offered him an apologetic smile. "Sorry to interrupt dinner." His gaze flickered to Heather and his eyes widened. "Heather?"
She smiled. "Hi, Deputy Taylor."
"You need something?" Jake asked.
His gaze was still on Heather. "It's good to see you."
Heather nodded slightly. "Good to see you too."
Jimmy looked over at Jake once more. "Uh, just checking in actually."
"Oh. Well we're doing okay..." He glanced back into the dining room. "As okay as we can be anyway."
He nodded a little. "Good. That's good. I'll uh...I'll see you tomorrow sometime." He took a step back.
Jake nodded. "See you. Thanks for stopping by."
"Sure. Heather, see you around?"
"Yeah, I'll see you." She watched him go, wrapping her arms around herself and rubbing her arms through the material of her sweatshirt absently.
Heather glanced at Jake. "Yeah, I'm good."
"Guess we should go back in there," he motioned to the dining room.
"Right." She turned and headed back into the dining room, forcing a smile.
Gail looked up as the two sat back down at the table. "Who was at the door?"
"Deputy Taylor stopped by to check in," Heather told her, taking her seat at the table once more.
"That was nice of him," she smiled softly at the kindness of the people in her town. "Now who's ready for desert?"
"There's dessert?" Emily grinned at her.
"Tell me it's apple pie," Eric said, looking at his mother.
"Is there any other kind of desert?" She winked and went to go get the pie from the kitchen.
Heather watched her go and dropped her gaze to the table, resting her hands in her lap.
Eric gazed at her intently, remaining silent.
Jake kicked him from under the table.
"Ow," he complained, glaring at his brother.
"Stop. Staring." He growled.
The room fell silent and all eyes turned to look at Jake.
"Jake, it's okay," Heather said in a barely audible tone, glancing across the table at Eric. "We should talk."
Eric folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Damn straight we should."
"Eric." Mary shot him a startled look.
Eric looked at her, "She disappeared. I thought she was dead and now here she is. She sent the military to help us and she's just fine. Excuse me if that seems a little off."
Heather's face paled at the unspoken accusation that lay between them.
"You're the one who sent the military?" Emily looked at her with wide eyes.
"Yeah. She was." Eric's tone was cold as he stared at her.
"Which saved a lot of lives," Mary reminded him quietly.
"Probably a cover. She wanted to see Jericho suffer first before sending in help to make it look like she was the hero," he spat.
Emily's eyes narrowed and she glared at him. "Now you listen to me. Heather is *not* an enemy," she said in a warning tone. "I am sorry about your dad, Eric. But you have no right to go around accusing someone else for what Constantino did."
"Emily...it's okay." Heather scooted her chair back from the table. "I'm not your enemy," she said to Eric very quietly as she rose to her feet.
Eric just continued to glare at her. "Keep telling yourself that."
"What's going on?" Gail asked suspiciously as she stepped back into the room, carrying a pie plate.
"Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Green. It was really good. I need to go." Heather offered her a fake smile, blinking back tears quickly as she headed for the front door without giving anyone a chance to respond.
Jake stood up after her, giving his brother a dark look. "You're a bastard. You know that?" With that, he left, going off to find Heather.
* * *
Keeping her head down, Heather wound her arms around herself, walking quickly down Jericho's main street. It wasn't cold out, but she shivered anyway, shaken by Eric's angry words and accusations.
She should have expected that people might be suspicious of her considering everything that had happened, but it hadn't occurred to her that the suspicion might come from someone she'd considered a friend.
"Heather stop!" Jake ran to catch up with her.
She shut her eyes at the sound of his voice. She heard him fall into step beside her, but didn't glance at him. "It's okay, Jake. He's angry and frustrated."
"He had no right to say that," he said quietly, touching her shoulder lightly.
"Sure he did. The way things have been...you've gotta be careful who you trust." There was sadness in her voice. "This isn't the world we lived in a year ago."
He shook is head. "There's no reason *not* to trust you."
Heather stopped walking and gazed at him. "Really? We didn't really know each other before I left for New Bern, Jake. Eric thought I was dead and here I am perfectly fine when sixty five people from this town are dead because of my hometown." She shook her head. "I don't blame him for being suspicious."
"Heather, you didn't cause this!" His voice raised a notch. "You've been nothing but help to this town!"
Her eyes were sad. "And I hope in time that...Eric will realize that I'm not some enemy spy," she said softly. "But right now he needs some space and time to deal with everything that's happened. And...he deserves that."
"And he has that. With Mary. You don't have to go home. He stays somewhere else."
She looked at the ground, flinching a little as heavy footsteps approached them. She shut her eyes for a moment, relaxing only a little after the soldier had passed. Then she glanced up at Jake once more, her expression unreadable. "That's his home, too. And I'm not gonna make him uncomfortable," she said softly. "I'll be okay."
He closed is eyes. "If that's what you want."
Her eyes watered but she blinked back the tears quickly. "I'm sure I'll see you around, Jake."
"Yeah.” His voice was dull. "See you around."
Biting down hard on her lip, she slowly moved around him and started the long walk back to her apartment.
* * *
The next morning, Jake left the house early, having not slept the night before, mind replaying the night's events. Before he knew it, his walking had taken him to the Jericho police station. Taking a deep breath, he went inside.
Major Beck had just hung up the telephone, a perturbed look on his face when Jake knocked on the doorframe. "Jake. Come in."
He stepped inside, hands in his pockets. "I accept."
Nodding a little, Beck pulled the sheriff's badge out of his desk drawer and set it down.
He looked down at the badge. "You were expecting this."
"I told you, Jake. I'm really good at what I do."
Stepping forward, he took the badge. "Yeah. I guess you are."
"And you should know I just got a call from Colonel Hoffman. You've heard of the Whistlestop tour?"
"Yeah. It's been all over the news."
He nodded slightly. "Jericho just got added as the newest stop on the route."
Jake took a breath and let it out slowly. "Then we have work to do."